The city fell into a slumber once again. The roads were emptied as soon as the sky turned red, and nobody could be seen roaming the street when the night finally came. The blinking red light from the watchtowers in all directions acted as a signal telling citizens to get inside their houses while the army took over the main streets on patrol routines. It was not the night that made people tremble in fear, it was the memory that kept haunting them, even to anyone who had never actually seen the war.
The fear of the machines returning to reclaim the city lingered in every citizen’s heart, and that fear is what mobilized the cold-hearted army. It also became the sole reason for strict regulations to be created, resulting in the hunting and banning of all machines, and also distrust between the humans themselves.
The pale light of the moon shone down throughout the city, making it glow a silver light, an eerily beautiful view that no one dared to step out and see. As the night grew and the moon rested on its high throne in the sky, the silence once again engulfed the big city as if it were truly dead. But the rules didn't really apply to those who lived near the edge of the city; rules were bent and human activities took place from day to night; the silence was so unlikely at the outskirts of the city.
Hundreds of people crowded the north entry gate to the tin city. Some were going back to their homes, some were there for other business, and some were just going to spend the night inside the safe town fence. The endless chatter of so many people could be heard from a few kilometers away out in the desert, with a loud shout sometimes cutting through the noise. The army began breaking the crowd into five long lines as they headed toward the gate. Meanwhile, other uniformed and armed guards were walking around and cutting lines in search of a suspicious person—an outlaw, or so they might have called it.
But that night, the chatter was quieter than ever. The red signal light hadn't stopped shining from the watchtower. The guards started scanning through the crowd with a blinding white light. Every guard was holding a dog that kept barking at the civillians, showing their teeth to threaten people. The lines were moving slower than ever, and the cold night had finally affected the mood of a certain young man, trapped in the middle of the third line.
His piercing eyes were enough to make everyone move away from his path. His fists were hidden in his pockets as though might be ready for a fight. The young boy, covering his mouth with a piece of ragged cloth, scanned the long line in front of him and frowned. He glanced at the tall buildings behind the gate; the shining, corroded metal covered in thick white, hazy steam spread a foul smell into the cold air. He took one step every ten minutes, and there were still tens of people in line in front of him.
He pulled up his hood to cover his brown hair and tightened his jacket to repel the cold wind. He kept knocking his boots on the sandy ground while waiting for the line to move. His eyes glanced at the man in black uniform with the vicious looking dog that was standing guard by the fence. Every single military guard kept scanning through the crowd as if they were looking for someone, all with a cold expression and sharp glare which made every citizen hang his head low.
But the boy wasn’t one of them. His eyes fixated on the tall man standing at the platform near the gate. His uniform looked somewhat lighter than the rest, but the gold buttons and lining were shining brighter than the others. The tall man hid his hands behind his back, and his arrogant face hadn’t moved at all. But somehow he felt the man’s stare even though his face was hidden behind the shade of his hat.
“Move, kid!” an old man behind him suddenly yelled, shoving him so roughly that he hit the fat lady in front of him.
“Hey, watch it!” the lady screamed.
The boy stepped backward while maintaining his balance, and suddenly people around him started to push each other. The three center lines merged into one chaotic crowd heading fast toward the front gate. People were screaming and shouting and pushing each other, anger was in everybody’s eyes, and the boy, stuck in the middle of the circle, couldn’t escape.
The guards immediately jumped into the crowd and pulled people one-by-one, forcing them to form new, tidy lines. But not all people were obedient, some even pushed the guards back and continued toward the gate. The chaos slowly turned into a turmoil. More guards were being sent to drive the crowd away from the gate, as well as to guard the two remaining lines. The young boy moved slowly toward the outer side of the circle before the mad crowd could crush him. As he was pushing forward, a boy a with brown coat bumped into him and held him up.
“Hey!” he screamed and pushed the hooded boy away. Just for a short moment, the hooded boy raised his head, showing a strand of dirty gold hair and a dirty cloth covering the left side of his face.
“Sorry,” said the hooded boy as he walked away, immediately losing sight of him inside the crowd.
“Get in line! Get in line!” a soldier yanked his hand and shoved him into a newly formed line, with only him and an anxious woman in front of him. The female officer in charge of the civil administration didn’t seem to be bothered by the ruckus and kept questioning the trembling woman as if there was nothing unusual happened.
The shouting became louder, so loud that the soldiers with the black dogs were mobilized to break the crowd. It was a rougher way to supress the chaos. The screaming and banging made the boy dare to not to look behind him. He sighed in relief, taking this chaos as a stroke of luck after his long day spent working on the scrapyard.
The anxious lady was asked to move forward. A bulky soldier ran a long, metal rod around her body. His curiosity kicked in, the young boy could not take his eyes off of the weird-looking rod attached to a rectangular box with three small lights on the soldier’s waist. So many questions appeared on his mind, his brain silently compiling the way the device worked, along with the possibilities of the way it was built. All of his thought instantly disappeared when he felt a strong gaze; he instantly turned his head, glancing at the tall man on the platform watching him from afar.
“Next,” the officer’s voice caught the boy’s attention again. The anxious lady was already gone from his sight, and the officer kept waving her pen, ordering the boy to quickly step forward.
“What’s your name?” the lady officer asked without looking away from her notes.
“Adam,” the boy muttered.
“Where were you from?” asked the lady again.
Adam sighed. “The scrapyard, three miles from here.”
“A scavenger, huh.” The lady muttered.
He was. An hour ago, to be precise. He just got kicked out of the dumpster field—where the scavengers gathered old metals to recycle—the only line of work he was accepted for in this entire city, all because he kept coughing while sorting the corroded metals.
“Not anymore,” Adam replied quietly. The lady finally took a glance at his sad smile, but she didn’t seem to care.
“Well, please step forward,” the lady turned around and pointed her pen toward a bulky soldier on his back. Adam quietly followed her instructions and stood in front of the bulky soldier. “Raise your hands. We will scan you now.”
Adam did as ordered while the bulky soldier started scanning his body again. And this time, too, Adam could not take his eyes away from the devices. It was the first time he saw the army use that kind of device in public, and he didn’t want to miss this moment. He could hear a faint buzzing sound when the metal rod passed his head, and he quickly assumed it was an electrical field that could detect any source of metal—just like how two pieces of thin iron could be used to detect water—which meant that the lights on the square device on the soldier’s waist must have been the receiver; maybe the light would shine when it detected a metal.
Apparently, he was right, as the three lights suddenly lit up when the soldier was still scanning Adam, followed by a ringing bell noise from the rectangular device.
“What the—” Adam shouted in shock.
“Guards!” the lady officer shouted from behind him. Seconds after, two soldiers tackled Adam, slamming his body to the floor.
“Let-let me go!!” Adam shouted, but his struggle was no use against the restraint of two trained soldier. The bulky soldier kneeled right beside him, too, and started searching through Adam’s coat roughly.
“We’ve got an outlaw suspect on gate three, I repeat, we’ve got an outlaw suspect on gate three,” the officer shouted into a green megaphone, resonating her voice so it could be heard a kilometer away.
The commotion started to rise again, and the people behind him slowly backed away. Some were watching him being crushed with curiosity, and some with fear. Being a spectacle was not all of the bad news, because just as the soldiers almost released Adam, the bulky soldier pulled out a shining silver thing from one of his coat pockets. The thing was so small that it almost looked like a pen, but with an attachment clip on each edge, and a thin glassy line in the middle of its metalic rod. The small thing also managed to capture Adam’s curiosity, because he knew that he’d never before seen that thing in his life.
“He has a device!!” the bulky soldier suddenly shouted.
“What?!” Adam shouted, equally shocked as the lady officer. He was sure that his pockets were always empty.
“Outlaw alert, report immediately,” the officer shouted again. “He has a device.”
“What—” the soldiers that were holding him down now pulled him up and forced him to stand. Adam kicked his legs attempting to break himself free. “Let me go! I have no idea what that thing is!”
The officer nodded at the two soldiers. “Take him to the Lieutenant,” she ordered. The soldiers started pulling Adam and dragged him away.
“Stop!” Adam shouted. “I swear I don’t know what that thing is! Let me go!”
Ignoring Adam’s shouts and struggles, the two soldiers dragged him across the border gate into a small room at the end of the building. It was a small rectangular room with an iron table in the middle and one door as the only way in or out. The white search light would sometimes pass through the small holes in the metal wall, providing the dreary room with a temporary glow.
The soldiers pushed Adam into the room and slammed his head to the table, creating a loud bang that echoed throughout the facility. Adam groaned, holding back the pain that made his head spin. A sturdy hand held his hands behind his back, while the others pinned Adam to the table strongly enough to exhaust him from trying to break free.
“Let me go!” Adam growled, yanking his body against the restraint.
“Stop resisting!” the bulky soldier shouted, pressing Adam’s head even stronger against the table, almost crushing his skull.
“Stop,” a clear voice rang through the room.
With a loud stomping sound on the metal floor, the soldiers who were holding Adam against the table finally let him go. Adam immediately stood up to see the two soldiers now standing beside the door giving salute to a tall man in a black uniform as he slowly entered the room.
It took Adam a moment to finish scanning the man’s worn-out uniform. It looked a little too big for him but matched his posture strangely well. Aside from the yellow-neat-hair and his cold, black eyes, Adam was able to catch a glimpse of the name badge on top of his right pocket, along with the rank badge on both of his shoulders, indirectly introducing him to Lieutenant Robert Schmidt. The rank was somewhat of a great achievement for someone with a face that looked just as old as Adam’s. The Lieutenant nodded to the two soldiers, immediately sending them out of the room, leaving only Adam.
“Good evening,” said the Lieutenant, tilting his black hat. His cold eyes judged Adam from head-to-toe before he sighed and continued talking. “I don’t think you need anymore explanation. Let’s keep it simple. You answer my questions, and I will let you go. But if you lie, let’s just say you’re not gonna see another sunrise. Now state your name and your business in the city.”
Adam growled, but also knew that this was not a good time to play around. “The name’s Adam…Haverton. I was trying to go back to my apartment before any of this happened.”
“Haverton.” The Lieutenant repeated. He raised his eyebrows and stared at Adam for a while before slowly nodding his head. “Interesting,” he added.
Feeling that he was being made fun of, Adam growled. “What of it?”
“No, it’s nothing,” said the officer. Now staring at Adam with an arrogant face, he slowly picked up the weird looking device from the table. “Well, now I’m curious with how a son of the Haverton had his hands on this device?”
“I am not repeating what I had said to the soldiers a thousand times,” replied Adam with a cold voice.
“I don’t think it works that way, young man,” said the Lieutenant. “Even with the war we won, any suspicious acts will be addressed as treason and will be prosecuted. This little device and your hindering act just now can be considered treason, but to avoid any unnecessary measure, I need you to answer my question now.”
“I already said that I don’t know what that thing is, or how it got inside my jacket. This is clearly a mistake,” Adam insisted.
“Let’s change the question,” the Lieutenant said calmly while observing the small device. “Even though it’s small, this device still looks quite expensive, don’t you think?”
Adam squinted his eyes. “What are you trying to say?”
“A scavenger who worked in a scrapyard, now in possession of this expensive-looking device.” The Lieutenant put the device back on the table and hid his hands behind his back again, his eyes staring at Adam coldly. “It is clear for both of us, isn’t it? Though I never thought that someone whose surname once known as a hero could do such disgraceful acts.”
“You’re accusing me of stealing?” Adam growled, his fist trembled in rage.
“I accuse you of bringing harm to this city by smuggling this device into the borderline,” the Lieutenant stated. “Now tell me, what does this thing do?”
The Lieutenant’s calm gesture finally provoked Adam. But Adam certainly knew that hitting any man in a black army uniform out of anger wouldn’t give him any good outcome. Adam took a deep breath to calm his fast-beating heart. He clenched his teeth so hard that his jaw started to hurt; his nails were digging into his palm, pain setting in. But Adam managed to keep his voice calm.
“I have said everything I know about the device; I don’t know. And I don’t have any more obligations to answer you. I’m done here, now please get out of my way,” said Adam as he pushed the Lieutenant and walk away.
After taking just three steps, his hand was pulled back again, and before he realized it, the view of the room spun before him, and after another loud bang and a stinging pain in his head, he was already lying flat on the floor while the Lieutenant twisted his hand. Just one more movement from Adam, and his hand would be gone forever.
“You see, kid, I’ve tried to be nice but clearly you don’t intend to cooperate, so we can’t do this the easy way, can we?” he growled while gripping Adam’s hand harder, making him gasp as he held back his scream. Seeing Adam trembling in pain, the Lieutenant loosened his grip and continued talking. “There is a person that’s under suspicion of possessing a forbidden device that may bring harm to this country, and you happen to bring one of this thing. If you still value your life, you will answer my questions right now. When did you get this thing, and who gave it to you?”
Still gasping for air, Adam took a glance at the Lieutenant and put on his widest grin at him. “The war is over alright, but I can’t believe someone is still caught in the paranoia,” Adam taunted. “It’s an AI maker isn’t it? Or else, people with your rank would not be here standing guard on the borderline just to look for a thief.”
The Lieutenant grasped Adam’s hand tighter, still with a cold expression in his face. “Be it a thief or a scavenger, an outlaw is an outlaw. If they were found to hold an ill will toward this country, I would be there to drag them to their execution field. Now, answer my question, Adam Haverton.”
“You’re suspecting me, I believe?” Adam smirked. “Well, go ahead, arrest me and take me away just like you cowards did to my father.”
“Clearly nobody has taught you some manners,” the Lieutenant said coldly. “You need to learn to respect—”
“I’ve lost my respect for this country for its obsolete way of thinking!” Adam shouted. His angry voice rang back through the small room and slowly faded to silence. Even the Lieutenant became silent after his unexpected reply. Both glared at each other, neither moved. For a moment he could almost feel the crowd go silent again before the chatter started to rise, the sound of Adam’s panting that broke their silence.
“My apologies to interrupt, sir,” said a firm voice behind them, followed by a stamping sound on the metal floor and a fast hand movement that created a slashing sound in the air.
“What is it?” the Lieutenant asked without moving his cold glare.
“The patrol squad has captured a guy matching the description,” the voice reported. “He was also found carrying a similar looking device and admitted that it belongs to him.”
Hearing that, the Lieutenant finally moved his cold stare and slowly stood up. He released Adam’s hand and pulled his jacket collar, roughly forcing Adam to stand up. The Lieutenant nodded to the soldier and stood firmly, holding his head high while looking down on Adam.
“I’ll make sure of your painful death if you dare to insult my country again, or if you are proved to be taking sides with the machines, or if you even thought about it,” he stated coldly as he pushed Adam away. “Do I make myself clear, Adam Haverton?”
Adam stepped back and leaned on the metal wall while crutching his hand that throbbed with pain. He kept his harsh glare and bit his lip, not letting out any words, as his anger might cause trouble. The Lieutenant only moved his gaze again when loud footsteps entered the room, with the soldiers pushing a rather short figure covered in a worn coat that hid his body shape and features. His dirty, gold hair covered half of his face, hiding his green right eye behind it while a piece of ragged cloth covered his left.
“You—” Adam muttered, eyes widening in shock.
“A-adam…Haverton.” the boy stuttered.
The Lieutenant sighed and signaled the soldiers in front of the room to come inside. “So you know each other, already.”
Watching the soldiers get closer, Adam started to panic. “No, sir, I—”
“Arrest them,” the Lieutenant muttered.
With a single command, the soldiers marched inside the room. The two of them were immediately seized, the strange boy giving no resistance whatsoever. Adam started to break into cold sweats when imagining the life ahead of him spent inside a prison or dungeon. He glared at the two soldiers who were approaching him, adrenaline rushed throughout his entire body.
“Stay back!” Adam shouted, clenching his fists. “Why are you arresting me, too?!”
“This young man here is the outlaw we were looking for, and that device is the thing we talked about earlier. It’s such a coincidence that you were carrying the same looking device,” the Lieutenant glanced at Adam. “So, is it now safe to assume that you’re working with an outlaw?”
While Adam was totally shaken by the Lieutenant’s explanation, the two soldiers immediately pulled each of his hands and dragged him toward the door. Adam yanked his hands strongly and tried kicking the soldiers’ legs. But his unfit condition made all of his resistance futile; the two soldier could still drag him away with no problem even if Adam continued struggling.
“Wait—Let me go, you bastards!” Adam shouted, pulling himself away from the soldiers that dragged him. “I don’t even know him and haven’t seen him before! He must be the one who put the thing in my jacket! This is a mistake—”
“Yeah, this must be a very big mistake,” the strange boy muttered.
“Shut up!” Adam snapped.
The Lieutenant suddenly raised his hand, and the soldiers who were dragging the two youngsters stopped. Just a moment after Adam felt relieved, the Lieutenant slowly walked toward the two of them. His menacing aura made them instantly fall silent. The strange boy even gulped when the Lieutenant stood in front of him, his eyes staring him down.
“And what do you have to say before living your life in prison until you rot and die?” asked the Lieutenant coldly.
“I would say,” the strange boy gulped. “Please don’t touch that, it’s so fragile. And more importantly, the two devices are the pieces of one; please put it together or else something bad might happen.”
“What?!” Adam shouted. The rest of the room seemed as shocked as him, excluding the Lieutenant himself.
“What should we do, sir?” a skinny soldier asked nervously.
“I don’t trust prisoners,” the Lieutenant stated. He turned back and walked to the table again, picking up the two devices in each hand and holding them high. “People lie to get what they want. And all that’s left for this device is demolition.”
“I get called that a lot,” said the strange boy while slowly leaning toward Adam. “Close your eyes.”
Adam glanced at him. “What?”
A loud crashing noise echoed inside the room as the Lieutenant threw the devices onto the metal floor. All of the sudden, the whole room was filled by a white light, so bright it almost felt like an actual sun was summoned. A high-pitched sound came along with the unfading light, swallowing every shout and scream that the soldiers made. It made the inside of Adam’s head ring.
The bright light and loud noise altogether were enough to make him lose most of his senses. All he could see was white, no matter if he closed or opened his eyes. The loud noise made him unable to hear anything else. He became dizzy and lost his sense of balance. But he didn’t lose his sense of touch, as he could still feel someone pulling his hand, forcing him to run. At that point Adam could barely feel his legs, making it feel like he was flying as cold air touched his face. After a while his senses gradually returned to normal.
It was his hearing that returned first. He started to hear shouting from behind the ringing noise, and as it became clearer, he could hear his name being mentioned. And after that, the white light that blinded his sight slowly faded; he could see the blurred image of the fast-moving scenery around him which appeared to be some place in the city, and a gold-haired figure that was also running in front of him. Even though he finally regained his senses, he still had no idea where he was, but the gold-haired boy kept on running, turning on every corner through the narrow alley, all the while still holding Adam’s hand tightly.
“Hey! Are you okay?...” the strange boy suddenly turned and shouted. The cloth that was hiding his left eye had been blown away by the wind, revealing a blue pupil, now also widened in concern. “Hang on!”
The strange boy kept leading the way until the alley they explored could fit only two people walking side-by-side. The metal walls surrounding them narrowed more and more as they ran. The deeper they went into the alley, the stronger a foul smell became, but Adam wasn’t ready to throw up the sandwich he had for dinner.
Warm steam emerged from each gap between the metal floors trapped between the metal walls, covering the way with white haze that dimmed the yellow streetlights. The corroded walls spread a metallic scent that gave the illusion they were running through a bloody alley. Sirens blared in the far distance; the silent night instantly turned into a raging chaos in a split second. There was no sign of the guards chasing them, even though the thick steam might have been enough to hide their figures.
The steam finally faded when they arrived at another narrow alley, trapped between more metal walls that soared so high they almost covered up the sky. With no sirens, shouting, or other footsteps that could be heard nearby, the strange boy finally loosened his grip and let go of Adam’s hand, though he kept glancing at him to make sure he had regained all of his consciousness. Both of them slowed down; they were out of breath and their steps were heavy; so the strange boy finally stopped under the last streetlight of the alley.
The metal walls around them led to what seemed to be a dead end. A high fence, garbage bins, and scattered trash blocked the road to an even narrower alley, leading to a dark path. They both leaned against the wall, panting. No sound could be heard around them but their own voices. In the midst of catching his breath, Adam glanced at the strange boy resting in front of him. For a moment they were both frozen in silence. The strange boy finally let out a relieved sigh while a wide smile started to form across his face.
“What the hell—” Adam muttered, unable to say anymore due to the lack of air in his lungs.
“I’m glad I finally found you! I’ve been searching everywhere for you—” said the strange boy, also struggling to breathe. He casually walked closer and took Adam’s hand, shaking it up and down quickly, causing it to tremble.
His sudden excitement scared Adam as he backed away. “Let my hand go! Who the hell are you?!”
“You’re...younger than I expected, but I think we are the same age, aren’t we?” The smile still widened on the strange boy’s face. “Still, it’s a pleasure to meet you, but there’s no time to explain—”
The introduction was interrupted by a sharp siren noise from the distance. The red warning lights lit up the sky once again, and the roads were instantly covered with men in military uniform holding guns and bows. The shouting became clearer as footsteps began echoing through the deserted alley.
The strange boy frowned and slowly backed away. Adam stood completely frozen as the footsteps on the metal floor gradually closed in. But the strange boy suddenly yanked his hand, which Adam instantly shook off. The boy shook his head at Adam while putting a finger over his lips; his eyes stared at Adam in full seriousness, causing him to unconsciously swallow back his voice.
“We will escape from this city, and I need you to come with me,” the boy urged. He ran toward the fence and waved his hand. “This way, quick!”
Adam raised his eyebrow. The loud sirens and shouting made him look at the alley and back to the strange boy in confusion. “Wait, why do you think—”
“You don’t have much choice, do you?” said the strange boy, as he started to climb the fence, gesturing the still-frozen Adam to follow him. “Hurry! Before they catch us!”
It had been a long day for Adam, literally. Getting himself fired was just the beginning of his wild night. Now, after he was accused of being an outlaw, the whole army and the Lieutenant himself were after his life. He could no longer think straight; fear of death and imprisonment had taken over his mind. Being under so much pressure, Adam did what other people would do under such circumstances:
Adam blindly followed the strange boy as they ran down the maze-like alley, all the way toward the southern part of the city. The road they took became even narrower and darker, and after running for almost half an hour without stopping, the adrenaline started to diminish from his body. Every steps became heavier as his legs started to ache. The cold temperature mixed with the thick steam burned his chest with every breath he took. Adam staggered, his lungs were hurting him again. He had to lean on the wall to stop and catch his breath. He clenched his fists as his body started to tremble, throwing up an acidic liquid that burned his throat.
Adam’s painful gasps made the strange boy stop and turn. His expression was hidden by the golden hair that stuck to his sweaty face, but the strange boy didn’t seem to be as tired as Adam. His breath didn’t seem to rush, and his complexion still showed as if he was calm. Adam glared at the strange boy as he sprinted toward him, but was unable to move his legs to walk away.
“Why—why are you stopping? Are you alright?” the strange boy asked, holding out his hand to offer help.
“Don't—” Adam warded his hand. “I don’t need your help.”
The strange boy seemed surprised by Adam’s reaction. Despite his condition, Adam pushed himself away from the strange boy. Adam placed his hand on the wall for support, even though the strange boy could see how hard it was for Adam to stand. The strange boy looked down and sighed, but immediately forced a smile on his face before looking up again.
“I understand, this must be weird for you, running away from the chase, also following an unknown person. So, before we move even further, introductions first, I think?” The strange boy smiled and reached out his hand. “Okay, my name is Peter, and I have known you, Adam Haverton. Now, if there’s no more problems, can we start moving again before—”
Adam grabbed Peter’s coat and slammed him to the wall. His face was red and flushed due to a mixture of running and anger. Peter’s pain quickly subsided; the shock was quickly replaced by panic, for the loud slamming sound might attract the army’s attention. Even with murderous intent in Adam’s eyes, Peter calmly stared back at Adam’s unfocused glare.
“Why would I run with you?!” Adam shouted angrily. “I am not an outlaw, this is just a misunderstanding!”
“But they will not hear your excuses now,” Peter gulped, “You see, back then—”
“So why did you set me up?!” Adam growled. “It was you, right? I know it was you. You’re the one who put that dangerous device inside my pocket!”
“It—it's not dangerous,” Peter stuttered. A proud smile started to form on his anxious face. “I called it a modified sonar! It is what people used to tell their location back before the war.”
Adam gritted his teeth and slammed Peter once again. “I don’t care what those damn devices are!”
“Then at least please listen to me,” Peter urged. “Adam, I have walked across the desert from the neighboring country, because I know you’re the only one who can help me. So please hear me out.”
Adam could not find a hint of doubt from the green and blue eye that stared back at him. His shoulders stiffened, but Peter still seemed relaxed with the faint smile that never left his face. Adam finally loosened his grip on Peter’s coat and backed away; he leaned back against the corroded wall. Adam covered his face with his hands. His head was full of all sorts of thoughts that he could not understand. But no matter how much Adam hated Peter for framing him in front of the army, he still wanted to believe that Peter had a good reason for doing so. Because he believed that, unlike the machines, humans always had a logical reason, even behind their most unreasonable acts.
“Now you better explain yourself,” Adam raised his gaze to meet Peters. “Why me?”
Facing Adam’s harsh stare, Peter quickly averted his eyes. “Because I know you,” he muttered softly. “Well, not really you, but I know James Haverton, your father. And I was looking for him...”
Adam suddenly raised his head. “You—you know my father? Do you know where he is?”
“I-I’m sorry...” Peter looked down. “I-I heard the news about him being captured a long time ago, so I came looking for you, his son, the only one who may have inherited his knowledge. I have come all the way here to see you.”
“So you could set me up and make me suffer through all of this?”
“Because I need you, I have no choice!” Peter confessed. “I need your knowledge, and I did not lie.”
Adam did not avert his stare from Peter’s eyes, as if he was trying to see his real intentions. There was a long pause before Adam finally sighed. “Why would you need me for my knowledge?”
A spark of relief appeared on Peter’s eyes, as well as his nervous smile. “Well, I wish you could help me with what I’m going to do.” He mumbled while running a finger along his unkempt hair.
“Then you can just ask nicely, can’t you?” Adam muttered. “I might not be Santa Claus, but if you only need my assistance then I can see what I can do for you, and then maybe this all wouldn’t be happening right now...”
“What’s a Santa Claus?” Peter asked, tilting his head in confusion.
Adam sighed. “It was an old tale, about a big red guy granting wishes and giving gifts or something—I don’t know. If help is all you needed, why didn’t you just come to me and ask?”
“Because I am not sure if you would want to help me if I didn’t do all of this,” Peter shrugged, hiding his hands in his coat pockets. He kept his mouth open while hesitation brewed in his eyes. After a moment, he finally sighed and raised his head. “Adam, I need you to revive my sister.”
“I—ugh, how do I put this better,” Peter ruffled his hair, looking troubled. “But exactly as I said, I need you to help me revive my sister.”
Adam looked at Peter, horrified. “Are you mistaking me—a scavenger—for a god?”
“No, it’s not like that!” Peter exclaimed. He kept staring at his feet and frowned as if he was deep in thought. Adam could see Peter clench a fist inside his pocket, and finally, with a slow-hesitated move, Peter pulled out his right hand from the jacket, as well as a thin rectangular thing that shimmered under the faint light.
The thing was the size of a card, but the thickness made Adam sure that it was not made of paper. It radiated a beautiful green glow, just like an emerald, though it did not seem to be made of that either. Adam stared at it, squinting his eyes to better see under the shadow. When he moved closer, he could see golden lines splitting the body of the card, constructing what looked like complicated circuits. His mind raced, even though he had never seen the green card before, it gave him the sensation of a familiar feeling.
Adam’s body remained stiff and ready to run, but his mind refused to. Despite what happened an hour ago with the device Peter called sonar, Adam did not feel threatened by the thing he held at that moment. Rather than making him feel threatened, Adam knew that the emerald card was not at all dangerous, nor was it another device. It even sparked his curiosity, so much so that he could no longer take his eyes off of the shining card.
Peter carefully held out the green card while staring at Adam, as if to see his reaction toward the card. After he saw Adam’s calm reaction, Peter took a deep breath and opened his mouth. “Adam, this is my sister, Alice.”
Adam immediately turned to Peter. A moment of realization made his eyes widen in disbelief and fear. “That is—!”
“It’s okay! This is just the program card, see?” Peter spun the green card so Adam could see both sides of it. “My sister, she is—uh, an AI program, the last one built before the war.”
“You had that thing—in your jacket—all this time?!” Adam snapped, “If the army found that earlier we would be on our way to the execution field right now!”
“I’ve hidden it well; they would never find it.” Peter assured.
“That is not the problem here.” Adam cursed and pointed at the program card. “That thing you’re holding is the source of the being that eradicated humans in the war!”
“Please listen! Alice is not an Alpha program—the one who killed humans, Alice is just a simple AI my father build, a basic program. She doesn’t have a body, nor can she function normally without the help of a human. She’s just like a human child.”
“I don’t care what it is!” Adam snarled. “This is madness, you selfishly made me an outlaw so I could have no choice but to work with you building a mechanical body?!”
“Not building a machine, just fixing the program, Alice is—”
“I don’t care!” Adam shouted. “That thing is what made my father—a hero of war—a prisoner in his own country! I am not involving myself in this sort of thing.”
“Adam, please—” Peter tried to stop him, but Adam immediately warded his hand and punched him in the gut with the other. “Guh!” Peter gasped and fell headfirst on the floor. Peter clutched his stomach, gasping for breath. Assured that Peter wouldn’t be able to stand for a while, Adam chose not to stick around and watch him suffer any longer, but instead to begin walking away.
“If you’re turning yourself in to the army, they will arrest you, too!” Peter shouted. But Adam didn’t seem to listen. Peter forced himself to stand, but the pain in his stomach made him collapse once again.
“Wait!” Peter hollered. Adam did not give him as much as a single glance and continued to walka way. His figure became faint and started to disappear under the darkness and steam haze.
Adam had followed Peter so far that the road he traveled was no longer a familiar path. He had strayed too far from his home in the northern part of the city, and going back that way would cost him a lot of time, let alone possibly his life. Adam kept on running, trusting his instincts and ears to help him find a way out of the alley. The sirens could no longer be heard around the city; his only guide was a faint chattering voice driven by the wind.
Those voices kept Adam on the same path through every turn he made, leading him toward the south sky, until the dark alley finally ended at the light of the main road that circled the outer part of the city. Adam stopped a distance away from the end of the alley, catching his breath while grasping his chest to settle down his thumping heart. Just behind the wall, the chattering voice sounded louder and clearer, and it was not the sound of just a mere commotion. Thumping and clapping voices in the air, loud synchronized footsteps, and shouted commands, all together created a vague racket in the air. Adam quietly creeped along the wall and stopped behind the light pole at the end of the path. He lurked under the shadows and kept watch on the source of the voices.
He caught a glimpse of people in millitary uniforms wandering around the main street near the big southern gate building. Nobody in other outfits could be seen; the soldiers had taken over the road. Each of them was armed; from small guns and bows, to crossbows and big gun-like weapon that Adam had never seen before. Judging by their voices, there were at least fifty men wandering around the south gate.
The tension was real, and Adam needed all of his courage to surrender in order to clear up this mistake. Adam sighed and glanced at the gate. He couldn’t really tell those people apart, their black appearances blended well with the dark background; seeing silhouettes was the best Adam could do without any light around him. He could not see any shining gold badges of the higher-ranked soldier—he was looking for Lieutenant Schmidt to clear up the accusation against him, even though there was a risk that he would be captured immediately if he was seen. And without any sighting of the Lieutenant around the posts or gates, Adam still couldn’t be sure that he was lucky, or perhaps the other way around.
Adam stepped out from the shadow and walked his way to the middle of the road. The left side of the road was blocked by a tall metal fence, separating the city ground with the remains of the burned forest. A faint smell of smoke lingered in the cold air, along with the ashes that fell like snow. Three search lights were sweeping through every corner of the city’s main road and the forest, but even the brightest of lights could not shine through half of the forest remains. From quite a distance away, the military guards were building a blockade on the road, closing access to the south gate. Every soldier constantly running back and forth around the posts. Nobody had noticed Adam yet. Things had become more intense than Adam imagined, and there was no turning back.
“Hey!” Adam shouted and waved his hand. He managed to attract the attention of the guards as three flashing search lights were immediately directed at him. The guards were coming out from behind the blockade wall, pointing guns and bows at Adam, while he could hear the other guards shouting ‘outlaw’ and giving out orders. Adam slowly raised his hands when he heard the clicking sound of the weapons getting ready to fire. His heart was beating so fast, he could almost hear the sound. Adam gulped, but his eyes showed no doubt.
“I need to speak to Lieutenant Robert Schmidt!” Adam demanded, succesfully hiding his quavering voice. But the moment after, the soldiers raised their weapons to aim.
“I am innocent!” Adam asserted, while carefully taking step after step forward. “I am being framed by the real outlaw. He is currently hiding in the alley! Tell your Lieutenant that I—”
His voice was interrupted by the sound of a slash in the air before a rough force hit his upper shoulder and pushed him back. Adam froze on the spot, his feet felt too weak for him to take another step. A stinging pain caused by the spreading ice-cold sensation from under his skin made his heart skip a beat. What followed the cold was a feverish hot sensation, so scorching it was as if it were melting his bones. His left arm began to go numb, and immediately, his heart started to lose its normal beat. A long, thin shaft came into sight from the corner of his eye. It had a smooth, black body and a white fletching that made it stand out in the dark. It did not budge and did not disappear from Adam’s sight, even after he moved and staggered backward. Adam then realized what had pierced through his shoulder: an arrow.
“We got him!” A rough voice shouted.
“One outlaw has been shot on the south gate, I repeat—” another voice echoed through the megaphone.
Adam grasped his shoulder and lifted his face, his widened eyes stared at the blinding light. One by one, tall figures appeared in front of the bright light, fragmenting the beams as shadows were cast to the sky. The soldiers slowly advanced toward Adam; each one carried a black bow and seemed ready to release his arrow at any second. One soldier stood behind the lights waving his hand, shouting and signaling the other soldiers to make their move. The sirens resounded, and the sky was illuminated by the red signal light. The quiet night was turned to clamorous chaos once again.
“The Lieutenant will be here soon; he wants him alive!” another voice reported. “Do anything to immobilize the target.”
“Soldiers! Aim for the foot!”
All of his hope disappeared when he heard the sound of strained bow strings as the soldiers adjusted their aim downward. His heart was thumping like crazy inside of his chest as if it were telling him to run. Adam gripped his numbing shoulder, trying to suppress the throbbing pain where the arrow had pierced him. Blood started to seep through his jacket, and he started to feel dizzy as his consciousness drifted away. Adam gritted his teeth and used all the strength he had left to run away as fast as he could.
“Don’t let him get away!” a loud voice echoed from behind, followed by loud footsteps as soldiers started the pursuit. But judging by the voices, they didn’t seem to be in a hurry to capture Adam.
With a sharp wooshing sound, arrows were fired and began to rain down on the ground around him. It seemed he had managed to survive the volley unscathed, as not a single one had hit his foot or, for that matter, any part of his body, and he was able to maintain his distance from the soldiers. But he could no longer ignore the intense pain in his lungs. His steps become wobbly and his vision clouded with a white haze. His chest began to tighten and another coughing episode overtook him as he ran.
Adam turned at a small alley, hitting his body against the wall before fell on his knees, using his hand to support his weight. Every attempt of inhaling fresh air always ended with a burning and aching feeling in his chest. Adam wheezed while clawing the floor in panic. The lack of air made his head feel dizzy, but he also felt a warm feeling that slowed down his heartbeat and made him feel sleepy.
Adam clenched his teeth. The tranquilizer from the arrow started to kick in. Drowsiness quickly took over his mind and weakened his body, as he slowly lost the will to run away. But succumbing to the sedative was not an option he had right now. He kept telling himself to stand up, but his body was not listening. He was still gasping for air as his body sprawled weakly onto the floor. The footsteps were coming closer to him, and Adam took his final glance as his vision started to fade.
In a state between awake and asleep, his body was pulled up from the ground and forcefully dragged away. A strong grip supported his body so that he could stand and move. Adam’s head felt so heavy that he could not help but stare at his feet while he walked. Each step he took brought him to the dreaming state even more, giving the illusion that his body was becoming even lighter, as if he were flying. His loud breath and footsteps were the only sounds he could tell apart from the other noises. All the other sounds surrounding him were a buzz, a low tone voice that was getting even further away as he slowly fell asleep, until a loud bang pierced through every sound and silence; it rang inside of his skull, snapping him back to reality.
In his fading conciousness, Adam saw a fast moving metal floor below him, soon becoming covered entirely in red sand. He realized that he was running even though he couldn’t feel the sensation at all. His ears couldn’t perceive any sound but his own heartbeat and breath. Everything around him was so quiet and unsettling, he had never thought how terrifying silence could be until now. A loud clanging sound jolted him awake, the search lights cast from behind him reflected off of the silver grid in front of him, blinding his vision. The hand that was holding him yanked him forcefully toward the grid; Adam was too weak to put up another fight.
“Damn,” a voice muttered right beside him. The moment after, he heard a strange clunk followed by a short, whirring voice. A hand covered in a black glove reached out from behind him, grabbed the metal fence, and, without hesitation, bent the sturdy metal as if it were made of plastic. The creaky sound made his head dizzy and was proof that he still hadn’t fallen victim to unconsciousness because of the sedative.
After the incident that felt unreal for him, he was dragged through a gap and began running again, entering the forest, going further and further toward the dark until the white light could not reach them anymore. The smoky smell strengthened around him, so much so that the air he inhaled burned his lungs. Wind blew off warm ashes that slowly carressed his face but hurt his lungs even more. Adam choked on the falling dust and started having another severe cough attack. His chest felt as if it were being crushed, and he attempted to gasp for air. As the coughing worsened every second, he was unable to catch his breath and his head started to feel light.
His body became heavier as he slipped from the hand that was holding him and fell to the ground. Rustling sounds vibrated through his head as he hit the surface, unintentionally covering himself in ash, sticks, and thorns that prickled his entire body. The sedative made his entire body numb; no longer could he feel pain or move, at least not for much longer. The moonlight casted the silhouettes of the trees, shrouding him in darkness with a hint of the spark from the remaining fire. As his conciousness drifted in and out, Adam heard another faint clunk as he slowly lifted his head from the ground and rotated his vision. A hard, steel arm supported his back while slowly shaking his body.
“Adam? Adam! Can you hear me?!” Peter’s voice rang through his head. He kept shaking Adam’s body, but he felt too weak to move or talk anymore. Adam slowly raised his gaze and caught a glimpse of Peter’s face—pale white because of the panic—while his conciousness was slowly fading away. “No! No, please don’t die! Adam! Adam!!—”
And suddenly, everything became so dark and quiet.